The past two weeks have probably been the most full weeks of gospel ministry in my life to this point. I’ve only been serving as a pastor in full-time ministry for a few years now, so I don’t have a ton of ministry mileage logged. Most of my weeks in ministry have been pretty predictable. Aside from the occasional unplanned meeting, lunch, or phone call, I’ve more or less been in control of much of my ministry experience.
As a pastor, I love to plan ahead. I enjoy thinking about where our people will be in the coming months and years, and planning accordingly. Because of this propensity to think three steps ahead, I’ve had to slowly learn how to be in the moment. I’ve learned that a blown plan isn’t the end of the world, and fulfilled plans can sometimes be sinful if they neglect the hearts of the plans’ subjects.
My lead pastor and brother in ministry has taught me that shepherding the flock takes time, patience, endurance, perseverance, and any other word that requires sitting, waiting, thinking, trusting. As important as planning ahead in ministry is for the advancement of the gospel in and through your people, sometimes it’s best to blow up our plans for the sake of being present with our people in their time of need. And nothing has caused me to lean on the ever strong and able arms of God than when my week doesn’t go as planned.
This past week I had the privilege of ministering to a local family who lost a loved one in a sudden and tragic way. I didn’t know them and they had never heard of me. Many of them are not members of a church. They were simply a hurting, grieving family in need of a minister to officiate a funeral service for their loved one. I count it a privilege now, even though I initially recoiled at the prospect of having the end of my week interrupted by an unforeseen need in my community. I had originally planned to work on lessons for a children’s biblical theology class I’ll be teaching this Fall. So, when I was asked to officiate this funeral, my mind first rushed to an unholy place. I thought about how I could rework my schedule to both minister to this family and get ahead.
On top of having to officiate a funeral, I was called on to fill in to preach for our lead pastor, who had become ill. So, a normal week for many pastors became a first for me, and one filled with unexpected twists and turns. In the midst of all my last minute preparation, I was faced with a tough question–do i care more about making and fulfilling personal plans and goals than I do the people these plans and goals are meant to serve?
Plans are good, but when they are held so tightly that you are unable to move them aside for the sake of others, they have ceased being a helpful tool and become a dangerous idol. No one enjoys being confronted with sin, but it is always a grace to us when God stops us in our sin. The Lord has worked mightily in me over the past 48 hours to help me see that while plans are important, people matter more. Thinking about how to love and serve both God and neighbor has alleviated my anxiety over my plans. As I planned the funeral service, I found myself more concerned about the hearts of those I was ministering to than how I would be received and perceived by those who would hear me lead and preach. I found myself with a radically God-centered and others-centered mindset, which empowered me to do what God has called me to do as a minister–love and lead those entrusted to my care as well.
Even though my sermon prep last week was much shorter than my three-steps-ahead mentality would have liked, it was much more fruitful because I was acutely aware of my limitations and weakness. I genuinely called out to God for help. And he answered. I worked to understand the text in its original context, make gospel connections and applications to the people I help shepherd. With every passing week, I’m continually blown away by God’s grace in choosing to use me to proclaim and minister his gospel.
Brother pastor, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of ministry planning. We are used to thinking months and years down the road. Is there ever an accomplished task? One finished sermon or lesson only means a new one must be written. Seeing one person conquer a sin-battle is met with seeing another walk in a dark valley of loneliness and depression. We see the highs and lows, the best and worst, the brightest and darkest points of humanity. But we are warrior shepherds wielding a piercing weapon of good news. We bring hope everlasting, joy incomparable, and love unconditional through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t have all the answers, but we know the guy that does.
Last week, I was caught in a whirlwind of planning, but through God’s providence and kindness, I was given a unique opportunity to truly and deeply depend on God’s grace. I needed the gospel last week. But what is so easy to forget is that I will need it this week and the week after that. My need will never cease, but praise God neither will his sufficiency to provide for my need. I’m thankful when my plans fail, his plans are greater. May the Lord continue to shatter my plans if it brings more weekends like the one I just experienced.